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What Is a Forestay?

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  • Written By: Paul Scott
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 30 November 2016
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A forestay is part of the standing rigging on a sailing vessel and runs from the top portion of the mast to the bow or front of the vessel. The stay may be a rope of steel or fiber construction or a solid rod of stainless steel or carbon composite. Smaller craft will generally have only one forestay while larger ships with stepped masts feature one for each mast section. The forestay serves a dual purpose in that it prevents the mast from leaning backward and may also support a sail in certain rigs. Sails attached to the stay are commonly jib or genoa sails.

The foremast on sailing vessels is supported by a piece of standing rigging known as a forestay. The term “standing rigging” means that it generally remains in one position and is not adjusted while underway. It is typically a galvanized or stainless steel rope, a fiber rope, or a solid carbon fiber or stainless steel rod. The stay is attached to the bow or front peak of the vessel and runs up to the top of the mast. In fractional rigs, the stay is attached a short way down from the mast top, thereby allowing for the use of a smaller jib.

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In vessels with one piece masts, only one forestay is used. Larger ships with stepped, multisection masts have one per mast section. Each is named after the particular mast section and include fore topmast, fore topgallant, and fore royal stays. Sets of stays which support the mast towards the sides or gunwales of the vessel are known as shrouds. The rear or mizzen mast of a multimast vessel has a stay that runs astern and is known as a backstay.

Apart from its function as a mast support, the forestay is often rigged with a jib or genoa sail. Both are triangular sails and, depending on the particular rig, may be set singularly or in sets. Where two such sails are set, the foremost sail will be called the jib and is attached to a line running in front of the forestay and secured to a bowsprit. The rear sail is rigged directly to the forestay and called the staysail. This is commonly known as a cutter rig. Large, stepped mast vessels may feature up to four forward sails, the staysail, and three jibs, one on each of the mast section forestays.

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